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Luera v. Lyerla

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 30, 2019

JOSE LUERA, #M23550 Plaintiff,
DOUGLAS LYERLA and JOHN BALDWIN, in official capacity Defendants.


          MARK A. BEATTY United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is currently before the Court on a number of post-trial motions filed by the parties (Docs. 241, 248, 249, 255, 258, 259, 260, and 261). Before addressing any of the motions, a brief summary of the proceedings in this case is necessary.

         Plaintiff Jose Luera filed this civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting constitutional claims against the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, various prison officials at Stateville Correctional Center and Menard Correctional Center, and Wexford Health Sources, Inc. regarding his placement in a cell with a mentally ill inmate who violently beat him and caused substantial physical and mental injuries and the allegedly deficient medical care he received thereafter (Doc. 82).

         The only claims remaining at the time of trial were Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim for failure to protect against Defendant Douglas Lyerla, a correctional major at Menard, and Plaintiff's claim against Defendant John Baldwin for injunctive relief related to his medical care (see Doc. 199). Plaintiff's claim against Major Lyerla was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict in favor of Lyerla on November 20, 2018 (Doc. 232). Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief was tried to former Magistrate Judge Stephen Williams on December 13, 2018 (Doc. 236). Following the Plaintiff's presentation of his case-in-chief, Judge Williams granted the defense's Rule 52(c) motion for judgment as a matter of law on Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief (Doc 235). Judge Williams issued a written order memorializing his ruling that same day (Doc. 235). Judgment was entered in the case on December 17, 2018 (Doc. 238).[1]

         On January 16, 2019, Plaintiff, by and through his court-appointed counsel, filed a “Post-Trial Motion” but neglected to file the supporting memorandum (see Doc. 241). Defendants nevertheless filed a response in opposition to the motion, asserting in part that Plaintiff's motion was untimely (Doc. 244). This prompted Plaintiff to file his own pro se Motion to Reopen Time to File Notice of Appeal and pro se Motion for Relief from Judgment (Docs. 248, 249). Three days later, Plaintiff's counsel filed a motion seeking to withdraw from the case based on Plaintiff's assertion in his pro se motions (Doc. 250). It was at this point that the Court discovered Plaintiff's counsel never filed the memorandum referenced in the post-trial motion. Plaintiff's counsel was ordered to file the memorandum, his motion to withdraw was denied, and he was ordered to remain in the case to finish the briefing that he started on the motion for new trial (Doc. 253).

         Plaintiff's counsel filed the memorandum (Doc. 254), along with a motion asking the Court to reconsider the denial of his motion to withdraw (Doc. 255). The motion to reconsider remains pending. Defendants then filed an amended response in opposition to the original post-trial motion (Doc. 256), to which Plaintiff's counsel filed a reply (Doc. 257). Plaintiff then filed several more pro se motions (Docs. 258, 259, 260). Defendants responded by filing a motion to strike (Doc. 261).

         A. Motion for Reconsideration of Motion to Withdraw and Request for Substitution of New Counsel (Doc. 255)

         The Court will begin its discussion with Plaintiff's counsel's renewed request to withdraw. Attorney Kyler Stevens from the firm Kurowski Schultz was recruited to represent Plaintiff (Doc. 125). Attorney Stevens entered his appearance along with two other attorneys from his firm: Matthew Clyde and Patricia Simons (Docs. 127, 136, 147). Although Mr. Stevens is the only one who formally moved to withdraw his representation (Docs. 250, 255), the Court construes his request as a request for Mr. Clyde and Ms. Simons to withdraw as well. Now that all of the briefing is finished on the original post-trial motion (Doc. 241, 254, 256, 257), counsel's request to withdraw is granted. While things ended on a sour note for recruited counsel, the Court nevertheless wants to thank Mr. Stevens, Mr. Clyde, and Ms. Simons for their time and service on this matter.

         B. Plaintiff's pro se Motion for Relief from Judgment (Doc. 249)

         In this motion, which was filed on March 11, 2019, Plaintiff asks the Court for relief from the Order dismissing the motion for a new trial that was filed by his attorneys (Doc. 249). He asked the Court to appoint him new counsel and allow them to file a motion for a new trial (Id.). However, Plaintiff was mistaken that the Court had dismissed the post-trial motion filed by his attorneys. At the time Plaintiff filed his pro se motion on March 11, 2019, the post-trial motion had not been ruled on and remained pending. Therefore, Plaintiff's pro se motion is moot. Even if that weren't the case, the Court cannot allow Plaintiff to file an untimely motion for a new trial under Rule 59(a). Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(2) (“A court must not extend the time to act under Rule . . . 59(b), (d), and (e) . . . .”). This motion is denied.

         C. Plaintiff's pro se Omnibus Motion for Equitable Relief (Doc. 258)

         This pro se motion was filed by Plaintiff on June 5, 2019. Plaintiff provided his case materials to a “PAL, ” which stands for Prisoner At Law and appears to be a fancier way of saying “jailhouse lawyer.” The PAL has apparently determined there are a number of deficiencies in the motions currently pending before the Court. The PAL asks the Court to withhold ruling on the post-trial motion filed by Plaintiff's counsel (Doc. 241) so that he can file a new pro se motion for new trial, to withhold ruling on Plaintiff's pro se motions at Docs. 248 and 249 so that the PAL can supplement them, and for leave to file an objection to the bill of costs.

         The Court did not immediately rule on the “Omnibus Motion” and so the PAL filed a pro se “Motion for Leave to File And Decision On Pro Se Objection and Response to Bill of Costs” on July 25, 2019 (Doc. 259). The PAL then filed a pro se “Motion for Leave to file and Decision on Pro Se Supplemental Motion for New Trial” on August 5, 2019 (Doc. 260). Given these latter two filings, the Court considers the request for relief in the “Omnibus Motion” to be moot.

         D. Plaintiff's Motion for New Trial (Doc. 241)

         This is the original post-trial motion filed by Plaintiff's recruited counsel on January 16, 2019. In this motion, Plaintiff's counsel argues that he is entitled to a new trial because the instruction given to the jury regarding the personal involvement of Defendant Lyerla was improper and the jury verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence (Doc. 254). Plaintiff further argues that the judgment as a matter of law on his claim of injunctive relief was against the manifest weight of the evidence (Doc. 254).

         The post-trial motion invokes both Rule 50 and Rule 59 as grounds for relief (Doc. 241; Doc. 254). However, the memorandum in support of the motion only discusses Rule 59 and does not even mention Rule 50, let alone provide the legal standard for Rule 50 or an argument tailored to the specific grounds for relief under Rule 50 (Doc. 254). Additionally, because Plaintiff did not make a motion under Rule 50(a) during trial, he cannot now bring a post-trial motion under Rule 50(b). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50, commentary to 2006 Amendment (“Because the Rule 50(b) motion is only a renewal of the preverdict motion, it can be granted only on grounds advanced in the preverdict motion.”). Therefore, to the extent Plaintiff is seeking relief under Rule 50, the motion is denied.

         A motion for a new trial under Rule 59 must be filed no later than 28 days after the entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(b). This deadline cannot be extended. Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b)(2). Final judgment was entered in this case on December 17, 2018 (Doc. 238). Plaintiff therefore had until Monday, January 14, 2019 to file his post-trial motion. However, it was not filed until January 16, 2019-two days late.

         Plaintiff argues that an untimely Rule 59 motion should be treated as a Rule 60 motion (Doc. 257). That is true under Seventh Circuit precedent. Justice v. Town of Cicero, Ill., 682 F.3d 662, 665 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Talano v. Nw. Med. Faculty Found., Inc., 273 F.3d 757, 762 (7th Cir. 2001)). See also Blue v. Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers Local Union 159, 676 F.3d 579, 583 (7th Cir. 2012) (treating untimely Rule 59(a) motion for new trial as a Rule 60). However, “[a] Rule 60(b) motion permits relief from judgment [only] when it is based on one of six specific grounds listed in the rule.” Talano v. Northwestern Med. Faculty Found., 273 F.3d 757, 762 (7th Cir. 2001).[2] “Rule [59] and Rule 60(b) will retain their distinct characters, and litigants should not expect to employ our rule as a Trojan horse for sneaking what are actually tardy Rule [59] motions into the courtroom under the guise of Rule 60(b).” United States v. Deutsch, 981 F.2d 299, 302 (7th Cir. 1992)

         Here, Plaintiff does not specify the grounds for relief under Rule 60(b) (see Docs. 241, 254, 257). Of the six discrete grounds spelled out in Rule 60(b), the only ones that might apply to Plaintiff are Rule 60(b)(1), which allows relief on account of “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect, ” and Rule 60(b)(6), the catchall provision that permits a court to reopen a judgment “for any other reason that justifies relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1), 60(b)(6). Relief under either provision, however, is an “extraordinary remedy . . . granted only in exceptional circumstances.” Davis v. Moroney, 857 F.3d 748, 751 (7th Cir. 2017) (quoting Bakery Machinery & Fabrication Inc. v. Traditional Baking, Inc., 570 F.3d 845, 849 (7th Cir. 2009)). Rule 60(b) was designed to address “situations where a judgment is the inadvertent product of ‘special circumstances and not merely the erroneous application of law.'” Kennedy v. Schneider Elec., 893 F.3d 414, 419 (7th Cir. 2018), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 1294 (2019) (quoting Russell v. Delco Remy Div. of Gen. Motors Corp., 51 F.3d 746, 749 (7th Cir. 1995)). Consequently, “[t]he ground for setting aside a judgment under Rule 60(b) must be something that could not have been used to obtain a reversal by means of a direct appeal.” Bell v. Eastman Kodak Co., 214 F.3d 798, 801 (7th Cir. 2000). Accord Banks v. Chicago Bd. of Educ., 750 F.3d 663, 668 (7th Cir. 2014) (“The narrow operation of this provision reinforces our interest in barring the use of Rule 60(b)(6) as a substitute for direct appeal.”)

         Here, Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to a new trial because an improper instruction was given to the jury and the verdicts were against the manifest weight of the evidence (Doc. 254). These arguments are grounds for reversal that can and should be presented to the appellate court on direct appeal and are thus precluded by the scope of Rule 60. Even if the Court assumes that Plaintiff's Rule 59 motion was timely or that his arguments fell within the scope of Rule 60, his motion would still be denied.

         Plaintiff argues that the jury verdict in favor of Defendant Lyerla and Judge Williams' decision in favor of Defendant Baldwin were contrary to the evidence (Doc. 241, Doc. 254). Plaintiff did not, however, include a narrative summary of the testimony and other evidence presented at either trial (see Docs. 241, 254, 257). Nor did Plaintiff's counsel order a transcript of either proceeding, so none were prepared. Consequently, the Court has no way to review whether the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict or Judge Williams' decision. The motion must be denied as to these arguments.

         Plaintiff's only other argument is that the personal involvement jury instruction, as modified, was improper because it was misleading to the jury (Doc. 254). The trial court is afforded “substantial discretion with respect to the precise wording of the instructions so long as the final result, read as a whole, completely and correctly states the law and conveys the correct law to the jury reasonably well” ...

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